There have been thousands and thousands of people in leadership roles throughout history. These leaders range from Fortune 500 megastars to teachers who are in charge of classrooms. If you are in a position to have people follow you, you are a leader. Now, just because you are in a leadership role does not mean you are a leader. I am sure many of you had Grade A amazing teachers, while some of the teachers you had were terrible representations of what a teacher actually is. This can be said for every leader: you are either a great leader or a bad one. I would classify the average leader as a bad one, simply for the fact that no one wants to be led by mediocrity.
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I have found there are two main types of leaders in the industry of strength and conditioning. There are those who inspire others and there are those who dictate. And yes, I know there’s supposedly thirty-five different leadership styles but it really all comes down to two things: are you a leader or do you lead?
Let me break this down even further. Leaders are those people you think of like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They are the type of people whose inspiration lasts for generations. Then you have those people who lead, such as the boss at work who you only listen to because you’re motivated by some type of external motivation or outside threat. This external motivation may be money or an outside threat such as the possibility of getting fired. I believe that leaders turn on the light inside of us that ignites our internal motivation (i.e., inspiration). Leaders have the power to make their beliefs our beliefs, or even deeper yet channel our inner beliefs into themselves. Good leaders become the physical conductors for our hopes and dreams.
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When I worked at Bob Evans in high school, my boss led me. When I worked at Western Kentucky University on our championship run, I was being inspired by leaders. My dream of being a champion for the first time was manifested through my superiors on a daily basis. I can’t say I felt the same inspiration when I was working at Bob Evans washing dishes as I did working at WKU knocking back wins on the way to the championship.
With all this in mind, it is important to remember what type of leader you want to be as a coach. Sure, there are many different types of leadership styles (authoritative, tyrannical, and democratic, amongst the many) but are you just the guy with the title or are you the guy that inspires the troops to keep going after they have no fight left? Anyone could have led the Spaniards to Mexico, but it took a real boss leader to burn the ships and defeat the Aztecs. When you’re leading your troop, are you the guy that leads them through workouts and then that’s it, or do you inspire them and keep that fire burning? Even more so, what you do is not as important as how you do it. What I mean by that is that if you are a “leader”, how are you leading your people, your players, your assistants, and whoever else is in your web?
With my players, assistants, and interns, I have always tried to inspire. I want to ignite their beliefs through my words and actions. I want to turn that internal engine on and let it power the car. I have never been one to lead through fear, and what I mean by fear is the “do this or else” approach. I am a firm believer that you want guys who are self-motivated. I am not going to be out there on the field or in life with them, so I want them to be self-motivated. I want to be able to start the engine and let the car drive itself. There are a lot of situations in life where I will not hold their hand or help them to make the right decision. So, like everything, I have to train them into being able to make their own.
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I have to figure out how to light that inner fire and start their engine for them to take care of business on their own through their own wants, not my wants. At the end of the day, I want the same thing my assistants and my athletes want: I want them to be the best version of themselves they can be so they can achieve success not just in business but also in life. Being as my wants and beliefs are the same as theirs, I can be the conduit they use to achieve their dreams and beliefs for themselves. In other words, I can be an inspirational leader.
I’ve never been about the old school leader who gets what they want by beating their followers into mental or physical submission. This does not inspire anything but the hope of survival, which has worked wonders in Junction Boys, but isn’t me. I think that the great leaders turn on that inner flame through not only their words but also their actions. There are those coaches I have had or been around that I would run through a wall for and then there are others I try to hide on the other side of the wall to avoid.
Point being, people don’t want to be led — they want to be inspired. They do not want to be fueled by fear, but rather inspired by belief. They want to be inspired by the belief that their appointed or chosen leader is doing everything it takes to help their inspired beliefs become a tangible reality. We as coaches are mentors; we teach, motivate, and inspire. Remember that before you go barking orders or threatening jobs or whatever lackluster way of trying to instill fear you may have misguidedly chosen. All these tactics don’t breed a culture, but tear it apart. The only thing these tactics breed is contempt. Don’t be that guy. Keep rallying the troops and keep building them up, pushing them forward with inspiration and motivation to conquer anything that enters their path, no matter the odds or how many bets are placed against them.